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belle PHOTOThe commercials for this didn’t make it look so appealing. We’d be getting another stuffy period piece in the Jane Austen/Merchant-Ivory vein of filmmaking. And of course, we get that ever present “based on a true story,” when it’s really a movie based on a famous painting. There are a few scenes with that painting that bring tears to my eyes.

At the movie premiere, I overheard John Travolta say “That Mugu Gai Pan is incredible.”

Uh, wrong name again, John. That would be the gorgeous Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Larry Crowne), who plays Dido Elizabeth Belle. The movie also contains some gorgeous cinematography to go nicely with her.

Belle is the illegitimate child of a naval officer that ends up being adopted into her father’s family after her mom’s death. That wouldn’t make the news today, but this is 18th century aristocracy. She is being raised by Tom Wilkinson, who obviously loves her and raises her right, yet she’s still relegated to not eating with the family when guests are over. She’s treated just above the servants.

Belle becomes close with her half-sister (Sarah Gaddon), and some of their tension feels authentic. That involves various suitors, and although not as powerful as the scene with Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility – it worked wonderfully.

The ethical dilemma Wilkinson is dealing with – as a judge that has to decide on a fraud case involving a slave ship – feels a bit forced, but he’s a good enough actor to carry it over the weak spots. Yes, it gets heavy-handed and preachy a few times. I preferred that it was understated and they gave us a strong female character that was believable. Maybe some will hate how in the 3rd act she’s relegated to just looking around in court room scenes, or at her love as he argues with others; but think about the time period. A mixed-race woman at that time isn’t going to be the usual creation Hollywood tries to pass by us.

The rest of the cast is rounded out by the always devilish Tom Felton (Harry Potter), and the always underrated Matthew Goode.

There were a handful of scenes in this that were terrific. A carriage ride where love is professed. Half-sisters getting into a fight, that gets heated, but goes in a slightly different direction than anticipated.

If Godzilla destroying San Francisco and Las Vegas isn’t going to float your boat – after watching fires burning down our city all week – perhaps a movie that isn’t the Downton Abbey flick ya think it’s going to be, will be a nice escape.

This movie was much better than Lincoln, but it won’t make 1/10th the box office that overrated and disappointing movie pulled in. After its entire run, it will probably make what Godzilla makes on opening day.

3 ½ stars out of 5.

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